(Renee Comet/For The Washington Post; styling by Bonnie S. Benwick)

V egetarian guests are delighted when Jaime Montes de Oca’s English pea panna cottas turn up on the Hay-Adams Hotel’s spring menu. The executive sous-chef uses agar-agar — available at natural foods stores — to firm up the creamy custards, then he graces the plate with an artful melange of tender vegetables.

English Pea Panna Cottas

8 servings

If you're using frozen peas, there's no need to defrost them. You'll need eight 4-ounce disposable aluminum foil cups, or glass or ceramic ramekins.

Serve as a side dish, or surround the panna cottas with a melange of seasonal sauteed baby vegetables for an entree.

Agar-agar, used here to set the custards, is available at Whole Foods Markets and at natural foods stores.

Make Ahead: The accompanying vegetables around the plate can be cooked, cooled and refrigerated (separately) for up to 3 days. The panna cottas need to be refrigerated overnight (and up to 2 days); they may become slightly paler with each passing day but will taste just as good.


For the panna cottas

1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for the cooking water

2 cups freshly shucked English peas (may substitute frozen peas)

2 cups heavy cream

5 ounces (scant 2/3 cup) whole milk

1/2 ounce powdered agar-agar (see headnote)

Handful baby spinach leaves (optional)

For the vegetables

2 cups red pearl onions

2 cups baby turnips, peeled

Tips from 12 ounces thin/young asparagus

4 small young carrots, peeled

8 ounces chanterelle, oyster and/or enoki mushrooms, cleaned

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 or 3 radishes, very thinly sliced

Edible flowers, for garnish (optional)

Finely chopped chives, for garnish

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling


For the panna cottas: Fill a mixing bowl with cool water and lots of ice cubes. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add a generous pinch of salt and the peas; cook for 1 minute (whether the peas are fresh or frozen) or just until they become a brighter shade of green, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the ice-water bath to cool.

Combine the cream and milk in a separate medium saucepan over medium-high heat; as soon as the mixture comes to a boil (without letting it boil over), stir in the agar-agar and tablespoon of salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cook for 5 minutes, then use the slotted spoon to transfer the cooled peas to the cream-agar mixture. Increase the heat to medium-high; as soon as it comes to a boil, remove the saucepan from the heat.

Transfer the mixture to a high-powered blender; add the spinach leaves, if using. Remove the center knob of the lid as needed so steam can escape. Puree until smooth and evenly green. Divide the mixture evenly among eight 4-ounce aluminum cups or glass or ceramic ramekins. Refrigerate overnight.

For the vegetables: Fill a mixing bowl with cool water and ice cubes. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the onions and turnips; cook for 2 to 3 minutes or just until crisp-tender, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the ice-water bath to cool. Once the water returns to a boil, add the asparagus tips and carrots; cook for 30 seconds, then add them to the ice-water bath as well. Drain and pat dry with paper towels; the vegetables can be mixed together at this point. Cut the onions, turnips and carrots in half lengthwise.

Cut off any tough stems from the chanterelle mushrooms. If you're using oyster mushrooms, cut them lengthwise in half or into thick slices. Use a paring knife to lightly score a crosshatch pattern on the flat/cut sides of those mushrooms.

When ready to serve, heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the mushrooms and season lightly with salt. Cook until they are just browned and have released their moisture. Transfer them to a plate. Add the onions, asparagus tips, turnips and carrots to the skillet and toss to coat; season lightly with salt. Cook for a few minutes, just until they are warmed through. Turn off the heat.

Just before serving, fill a shallow pan with very hot water. Working with one at a time, use tongs to hold the bottom of each panna cotta in the hot water just long enough to loosen it from its cup or ramekin. Invert onto the center of each chilled plate. Cut some of the onions and turnips in half; artfully arrange a mix of onions, turnips, carrots, radish slices (to taste), asparagus tips, mushrooms and edible flowers, if using, around each panna cotta.

Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with the chives. Serve at room temperature.

SOURCE From Jaime Montes de Oca Jr., senior executive sous-chef at the Hay-Adams Hotel in downtown Washington.

Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick

NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS (per panna cotta only) 250 calories, 4g protein, 9g carbohydrates, 23g fat, 14g saturated fat, 85mg cholesterol, 920mg sodium 3g fiber 5g sugar